A Barrowburn Blast From The Past
Many moons ago we organised a one-off duathlon in the quiet hills of the Upper Coquet valley. It attracted a very small field but the event was all about having fun and getting out into the serenely beautiful setting of Barrowburn. The ladies winner was the wonderful Gemma Thompson, then a junior doctor without a child and just starting out in Mountain Rescue. We caught up with Gemma to ask her a few questions and to have a look at her then race report. Little did she know what suffering she’d go through on that day…
What made you sign up to the event?
I had taken part in some road triathlons but had always preferred to run off road. The event looked fun and challenging.
How did the training go leading up to the day?
I was a junior doctor in my first year of work so I was just trying to find the balance between work and exercise. I was getting out into the hills when I could and training with North Shields Poly and my running group Monkey Runners but was not following any formal training programme.
When you saw the course the week before hand did you have any thoughts?
Naively thought the hills would be fun.
How did the race go?
See race report below…
Any lasting memories of the event?
Amazing location with such natural beauty. Incredibly well organised event with fantastic support. The coolest café that I’m sad no longer exists. Amazing stargazing at night.
I’ve continued to find these events the best as they focus on the competitor and experience not bling/gimics, family friendly and have the best onroute snacks.
Race Report by Gemma Thompson
So I entered this quite naively to be honest. My partner Paul had already entered and I thought the Cheviots would be a fantastic venue and the distances weren’t too bad: 2 mile run, 10 mile off-road ride and then 5 mile run. It turns out that the course was as far from easy and it would take me a lot longer to complete than I had imagined. It all starts the night before as the event offered free camping in one of the fields next to the Barrowburn farm tea room. It was a quite tortuous journey up from Rothbury to the Barrowburn ending with a long single track road.
We arrived, pitched our tent and headed straight to the tea room which was kindly being kept open late by the owners Ian and Eunice to give the participants who were camping the chance of some warm food. We had a lush curry with rice and nan bread and finished off with ginger cake and sponge next to the open fire. There we met another participant and his family and the organiser of the event Barry and his dog. It was during cake and custard chat that I started to appreciate the size of the ascents I was going to attempt the next day but continued to think they would be fine. We then spent some time sitting outside the tent admiring the stars and satellites as we were camping in a dark skies area and then I made myself some hot water bottles for the cold cold camping and headed off to bed!
So the day starts by going back to the tea room for a pre-race bacon sandwich and a cup of tea next to the fire. Then we returned to the tent to get the bikes out of the car and gather our kit. There was mandatory kit to take: enough water for the ride, foil blanket, survival bag, energy gel/sweets, mobile phone and waterproof jacket. I was still naïve to the challenge ahead. I thought it was just going to take a couple of hours so I only packed 3 gels.
At bike racking, on the grass as we missed our place on the propped up ladder, it dawned on me that the full 28 entrants were not there. It was already a small field and I was sure I would be last. Not much time to think about this as Barry gave a race briefing and we were off!!
Run 1 – 2 miles
Only two miles. Easy I thought. I had been telling Paul how I would be well ahead of him. It started along a road for a bit and then turned sharp right up a steep grassy hill. I couldn’t keep running I had to start walking. I was sure the cross-countries had prepared me for anything. I looked ahead and others are walking too so I felt a bit better. I realised this “warm up run” was hinting on what was to come. Amazingly the descent back to the tearoom was in my favour, I took back 3 places including getting Paul just before transition.#
Bike – 10 miles
So the bike started with that amazing descent I had enjoyed….just in the opposite direction. It wasn’t not long before I was off and pushing my bike up the top of the hill. Paul is was already ahead of me and disappearing off in the distance. I was aware the only other girl in the event is behind me but I was sure she would catch me as I was already exhausted. There was a good descent down this first hill skidding a bid on some muddy sections and then a fun descent down a fire road.
It was then time for the mighty climb up to Windy Gyle (with wet feet as there was a stream at the bottom of the fire road). This was a never ending climb and I had to push my bike up the whole thing. I’d had at least two of my gels by the top. Only one person had over taken me since Paul went ahead so this was encouraging. The next section was a technical uneven bog ride but at least I was actually on my bike! The ride finished with an undulating journey south back to the tea room with more mud and bogginess. Last gel was used.
Run 2 – 5 miles
I arrived at transition with no energy and no gels/food left. I could see the massive hills that I would climb on this run. Luckily the amazing High Fell Events had provided a table of snacks including flapjack and jelly beans free for all competitors. Off I go running out of transition with a handful of snacks and cheers from people who have already finished (they are superhuman!!) and kind supporters. Through a little ford (wet feet again) and the ascent starts straight away. I tried to run until out of sight but I was walking again pretty soon. The whole ascent was a mix of a fast breathless waddle with short bursts of jogging when I could. At the top of the first hill there was no one to be seen in front or behind and it was completely quiet, not a sound other than me breathing pretty heavily. The whole way was marked by arrows and random tape. I only had sheep and wild horses for company. It was time for the ascent of the bigger hill and I saw someone ahead, just going over the top. I was so relieved I was still on route.
Looking ahead to the descent was what was keeping me going (and being able to spot the tearoom and thinking of the cake inside it). Unfortunately the descent was so steep I could barely run it. I went over on my ankle but I could
keep going. I saw Barry waiting below at the river crossing and Paul cycling back along the road to cheer me on as he had finished. It was like slow motion as there was still so much distance to descend. Eventually I was there crossing the river and then running back along the road to the finish with Paul by my side.
4 hours and 25 mins later….I finished. I couldn’t believe how hard it had been. I was given a medal and a t-shirt….and a trophy!! I was still the first girl in, I’d almost forgotten about that!!